Infinity Times Three: Disney Infinity 3.0 Launch

Oops, just realised this is pretty late. Anyway, here’s my coverage of the launch of the Disney Infinity 3.0 video-game:

As published in Issue #68 of F*** Magazine

Text:
INFINITY TIMES THREE
F*** leaps into the toy box and emerges in a galaxy far, far away at the Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition launch
By Jedd Jong

F*** was at the Sandcrawler Building, Lucasfilm’s Singapore headquarters, for the launch of Disney Infinity 3.0. Disney Infinity, which had its first version released in 2013, is a “toys-to-life” video game which utilises collectible figurines that can be synchronised with the game, unlocking new characters from various Disney properties that can interact and go on missions. The characters in Versions 1.0 and 2.0 have included Disney and Pixar characters such as the Incredibles, Elsa and Anna and Captain Jack Sparrow. Disney Infinity 2.0 Edition introduced Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, the Avengers and the Guardians of the Galaxy. 3.0 marks the much-anticipated arrival of Star Wars characters into the Infinity toy box.

“We wanted people to play much like Andy and Woody played in Toy Story,” Disney Interactive producer Jason Moffitt says of the Disney Infinity concept. “The brand, that’s what’s strong with us – having Olaf sitting on an AT-AT leg and getting taken away because he wants to hug it, this is the only place that can happen,” Moffitt continues, referring to a trailer we were shown that depicted just that – Frozen’s loveable snowman, feeling right at home on the snow planet Hoth, embracing the foot of the Imperial Walker from Empire Strikes Back.

Disney Infinity encompasses various styles of gameplay, with open world sandbox elements alongside platforming, top-down dungeon crawl and cart racing modes. Developed by Avalanche Software, other developers were brought on for 3.0to enhance the gameplay. Ninja Theory of Devil May Cry fame were enlisted to devise the lightsaber mechanics and Sumo Digital, known for Sonic Racers, helped build out the cart racing mode.

The game has been touted as offering the “complete Star Wars experience”, with the Twilight of the Republic playset which covers the prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars, as well as the Rise Against the Empire playset, which covers the original trilogy. The Twilight of the Republic playset comes with Anakin Skywalker and Ahsoka Tano figurines, while the Rise Against the Empire playset is packaged with Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia figurines. Players will get to relive iconic moments from the films, including the Death Star trench run and the Endor speederbike chase and battle villains such as Darth Maul and General Grievous. Fan-favourite Boba Fett is available as an exclusive figurine with the PlayStation bundle.

There will also be a playset for the new Star Wars film, The Force Awakens. Finn and Rey were revealed as Disney Infinity characters at the recent D23 expo. There will also be more characters to be announced further down the line. Moffitt revealed that while Star Wars Battlefront will incorporate elements from The Force Awakens, Disney Infinity 3.0 will be the only video game that features the story of the film, at least for the time being.
The Playset Mode can only be occupied by the characters appropriate for their worlds, but in 3.0, any Star Wars character can inhabit any Star Wars world, which means Luke can go back to the Clone Wars. Toy Box Mode is an open world playground where players can create whatever they imagine. Moffitt described a “Lion Kingchallenge”, in which a contestant was able to re-create the famous opening scene to the Lion King using Toy Box elements.

The other main draw of 3.0 is the Inside Out playset, based on the Pixar film. The Inside Out playset is designed as a platformer where players control Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Fear and Anger as they traverse various areas inside Riley’s mind. The Inside Out playset was designed with cooperative gameplay in mind. “It’s an easier game to play when you play co-op,” Moffitt says. “You can be running on top of the level and your friend can be running below the level doing different things.” A Marvel playset called “Battlegrounds” is in the works.
The “Toy Box Takeover” is Moffitt’s favourite mode in the game. The rough storyline features Incredibles villain Syndrome snatching away the player’s magic wand, enlisting the help of other Disney Infinity villains such as Davy Jones and Loki. The player will have to go into each villain’s world to fight them and eventually reclaim the wand. Any character from 1.0, 2.0 and 3.0 is fair game to jump right in and play.
Lead character designer Jeff Bunker Inset: Han Solo
During the Q&A session, this writer asks Moffitt if Han Solo was intentionally designed to resemble Flynn from Tangled, since he’s even got the smoulder. Moffitt replies that the development team believes lead character designer Jeff Bunker made Han a little bit of a self-portrait. Another reporter asks Moffitt about his views on Disney Infinity’s competitors in the toys-to-life video game category, such as Skylanders and Lego Dimensions. “They’re all great games, I have nothing bad to say about Skylanders, I hope everybody buys every toys-to-life game but if you’re gonna buy one, buy ours,” Moffitt replies diplomatically. “I think what sets us apart, honestly, is Toy Box. The Toy Box mode, when we were first selling it, we had to say ‘this game is Little Big Planet mixed with Minecraft mixed with Skylanders’…and it’s like that, the logic connections, we just continually grow what you can do.” Referring to the Toy Box mode, Moffitt claims “no other game has that and no other game’s going to have that because it’s just such a huge undertaking for someone to do and I think that’s what sets us apart.”  On the future of the series, Moffitt states “we hope to make a hundred of these [versions] and maybe by then we’ll run out of Disney characters.”

Exasperated parents should prepare their wallets come 1 September 2015, when Disney Infinity 3.0 is released. The Starter Pack includes 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 video game disc, 2 Star Wars figures – Ahsoka Tano and Anakin Skywalker, 1 Disney Infinity 3.0 Edition base, 1 Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic playset piece and 1 web code card that unlocks content for PC/mobile. The standard retail price of the Starter Pack is SGD $99.90. Additional Disney Infinity 3.0 playsets, Toy Box expansion games and character figurines are sold separately. The game is available for the PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Wii U, PC, iOS and Android platforms. 

Inside Out

For F*** Magazine

INSIDE OUT

Director : Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen
Cast : Amy Poehler, Bill Hader, Lewis Black, Mindy Kaling, Phyllis Smith, Richard Kind, Kaitlyn Dias, Diane Lane, Kyle MacLachlan
Genre : Animation
Run Time : 102 mins
Opens : 27 August 2015
Rating : PG
Pixar takes viewers on the ultimate head trip in this animated comedy set in the mind of an 11 year-old-girl. Riley Andersen (Dias) is a typical kid, with loving parents and a penchant for ice hockey. She begins to experience mood swings when her family relocates from Minnesota to San Francisco, and we get an inside look at why things are going bumpier than usual. The personifications of five emotions – Joy (Poehler), Sadness (Smith), Fear (Hader), Disgust (Kaling) and Anger (Black) – live and work in Riley’s mind, operating out of “headquarters”. Joy runs a tight ship and comes into conflict with Sadness, whose purpose in Riley’s mind is not apparent. When Joy and Sadness get stranded outside headquarters, they must overcome their inherent differences and find their way home to ensure Riley can be well-adjusted and happy. 
Pixar has built a reputation as a studio with a particular knack for effective, moving storytelling, and Inside Out is their strongest effort in recent memory. Many have pointed out that the premise isn’t exactly original, with 90s sitcom Herman’s Head and animated adventure flick Osmosis Jones cited as having similar premises. However, directors Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen, along with the Pixar story crew they assembled, ensure Inside Out is anything but derivative. Many Hollywood animated films are made for the express purpose of selling toys. Pixar has set itself apart by prioritizing storytelling, with the toy sales following naturally. They’ve even made a series of films all about toys that packed a surprising amount of emotional resonance. Everything about Inside Out just works, from the concept up, and the effort and attention to detail invested at every step of the way is all onscreen. 
Docter has said the primary inspiration for Inside Out came from his pre-teen daughter Elie and wondered what it would be like if her emotions had personalities of their own. This starting point ensures the film is easy to relate to from the get-go, since everyone knows what it’s like to struggle with their feelings at some point or another. The film was made with the input of psychologists Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner, and Inside Out strikes that vital balance of portraying the inner workings of the mind with sensitivity and deftness while retaining the accessibility and entertainment value the film requires. The screenwriters gamely tackle the unique challenge of creating fleshed-out characters who are explicitly defined by a singular trait, which must have taken a great deal of figuring out. The bulk of the story is reminiscent of a buddy road trip film, with Joy and Sadness traversing the labyrinth of Riley’s long-term memory, meeting various other characters in Riley’s mind along the way. The character dynamics all click right into place and there is a laudable amount of depth in these ostensible caricatures. 
Many animated films cast big-name movie stars to draw in the parents, the fact that they might not be competent voice actors be damned. Pixar has generally avoided this pitfall and Inside Out features one of the best voice casts they’ve ever wrangled. The ensemble comprises many established comedians, including several Saturday Night Live alums. Amy Poehler and Phyllis Smith play off each other remarkably well – typically, voice actors record their parts separately with the tracks assembled later, but Poehler and Smith got to record together and their chemistry benefits the story immensely. Lewis Black, well-known for his grumpy stand-up comedy persona, is the logical choice for Anger. Naturally, it would have been easy to deliver a one-note performance, but all the voice actors are able to find wiggle room within their character’s defined personalities, not unlike how Scott Adsit was able to imbue Baymax with enough warmth while still sounding like a robot in last year’s Big Hero 6. Richard Kind, voicing Riley’s imaginary friend Bing Bong, brings whimsy and heart to the character who aids Joy and Sadness in their odyssey. 
Inside Out is also expectedly gorgeous to look at, presenting a dazzling array of landscapes for the story to unfold against. Headquarters is reminiscent of the bridge of the Starship Enterprise and there is an amusingly inventive sequence set in the realm of abstract thought. The character designs are obvious but apt and the colour-coding is visual storytelling at its simplest and most effective. The skin of each of the emotions is like an effervescent plush toy and it’s a tiny design flourish that goes a long way. 
One of the most cogent and evocative explorations of mental health ever committed to the screen, Inside Out is the ideal jumping-off point for many a meaningful post-movie family discussion. It will certainly prove very helpful to children and parents struggling to understand and cope with emotional changes and conditions like depression and anxiety. It’s also a film that bears revisiting; an 8-year-old will enjoy it on one level but discover totally new facets of the film at 13. Inside Out makes a compelling case for the necessity of sadness and other emotions that are generally perceived as negative, conveying this message through a visually-arresting adventure story. It’s also very humorous and while the term “emotional roller coaster” is thrown about a lot, it is as apt a description of Inside Out as any. Lava, the short film attached to the front of the feature presentation, has proved divisive, but this reviewer was quickly moved to tears by its charming volcano love story spanning millions of years. 

Summary: At once heart-rending and euphoric, Pixar’s odyssey of the mind is a triumph in every regard, from its story to its design to its excellent voice cast.
RATING: 5 out of 5 Stars 
Jedd Jong